Wednesday, February 29, 2012

There is Something Greater Than Jonah Here

Do you follow the daily readings?  I try to, but it does get away from me, especially when daily Mass is not an option with noisy little ones. Lent is always a good time to make a greater effort to clear out the obstacles that prevent us from hearing the Word of God proclaimed.

 Sometimes the readings are hard to piece together.  I find myself straining to figure out what is being proclaimed in the way the readings have been put together on a particular day.  Today's readings are pretty obviously about hearing a call to repentance and responding with a contrite heart.  Deep and true repentance that opens your eyes and  frees your heart to be healed by the one for whom you were created for.

But it is the Gospel of Luke that causes me to listen and reflect on the other readings.  The Queen of Sheba responds to the wisdom of Solomon by traveling from the ends of the earth, sparing no cost to receive it.  And in this Gospel Jesus says:  "there is something greater than Solomon here."  Can you feel it?  Do those words uttered from the mouth of Christ cause you to take in a quick breath?  Does your soul ache just a little when you hear them?

 The notorious Ninevites immediately respond by donning sackcloth and ashes, by  fasting and mourning at the preaching of a reluctant prophet of God.  Again, Jesus says, "there is something greater than Jonah here."  And again these words seem to reverberate inside me, they call me to react to Jesus in a far deeper way, to repent in a more profound way.  They are ripples in the waters of my soul that could become of tsunami of contrition if I just let them flow and wash away all the soft and fuzzy notions of repentance that I have blindly allowed to accumulate in my heart. They have calcified and hardened my heart over the years.   If you want to grow in love for Jesus, you have to let them go, or you will never, never realize that there is something greater in Him than is contained in all the wisdom of this world, and in all the prophets that have perceived and proclaimed the Word of God.

I don't think this means we should turn overly scrupulous, the two extremes of scrupulosity and presumption on the Lords mercy both block us from realizing that God's mercy is equal to His majesty.  I think that presumption is the more prevalent problem of our time.  I think our image of God is a weak and pathetic one, and so our concept of sin is treacherously myopic.  The Queen of the South will indeed condemn us for having Jesus Himself    on our tongues, yet barely giving up a Sunday to celebrate Him.  Without this, it is terribly hard to recognize sin and how it works like a cancer within our calcified hearts unless it is sincerely repented of.  In fact it may not seem that bad, if we do not recognize the majesty of God first.

So listen to the Gospel again, listen with your imagination.  These words were spoken by the Lord Himself, and they are active.  Feel that aching in your soul, let the ripples become a torrent that can wash away the debris.  Let them break your heart so that you can offer the Lord the sacrifice He desires.  "There is something greater than Jonah here."  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Swept Away

The readings for this Sunday speak of repentance and new beginnings, of God's yes to our plea of "Lord have pity on me; heal me though I have sinned against you." (Responsorial from Psalm 41). It is a good place to begin as we look to Ash Wednesday and our Lenten journey this year.  I have written about Isaiah 43 before because it is one of my favorite readings in Isaiah.  But, as we all know, the way of repentance and redemption is not easy.  It is a continual baptism into a death to sin and a rising in the Spirit.

True repentance and true redemption can only begin in those terrible moments when we get an honest glimpse of our own depravity, and when we begin to understand how we cling to it, how we hide in it.  I love the Leonard Cohen song: By The Rivers Dark and I listen to it a lot during Lent.  It perfectly captures the foreboding sense that one is being hunted,  and the fear of being found, even though you know you are hopelessly lost.

I remember once attending a talk by Deacon James Keating of the Institute for Priestly Formation on sin and redemption, the theme being "Suffer the coming of Christ.". He began speaking on the Scriptural events of the Fall, and he spoke of God's message to Adam and Eve.  With the deep menacing tone the Deacon paraphrased God's Protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 into:   "I am coming to get you."  My first thought was, does he realize how scary that sounds?  Surely he does not mean it to be so frightening!  What happened to Jesus Loves Me?  I quickly realized that Deacon Keating intended the message to sound this way, and the shock of it quickly moved me past some highly sentimentalized notions of my Savior, a long overdue grace. His coming is a terror because if I am to authentically receive Him, I must let go of my lifeline to things that are passing and let Him sweep me away.

I once was in a class where the topic for the day was beginning contemplative prayer and as we were wrapping up our prayer a woman at our table gasped "look at your face!"  My face was apparently flushed, and I could feel the warmth in my cheeks.  Father just said, yes sometimes that happens in prayer, and I made some an embarrassed joke about drinking too much coffee, to which Father laughed and nodded and went on with his instruction.  But I was shaken, not just because it was so public, but because I for a moment perceived Him, more intensely than I had in quite awhile. and it is like standing on a precipice.  Thrilling and terrifying at the same time, and you instinctively pull away!  A moment when I feel His call, and I pull back because He may ask for more that I want to give.  He may be calling me to a higher level of kindness, to make a sincere apology, or He may be illuminating an area in need of repentance, whatever it is it may be better not to know. 

And I am afraid of being swept away, of being consumed in religious zeal, and making some rash commitment that will be difficult to keep in another frame of mind.  I find it better to not try than to try and fail.  I want to be cool, I want to be accepted, I don't want to be fanatical or foolish. I want to be loved by all, admired by all ectetera, blah, blah blah.......

The first hurdle I faced in growing in faith was a moment that for me was that I was confronted with defining who Jesus was, God Incarnate who was bodily resurrected from the dead, the next one is even more difficult, it is to let the passionate love of Him completely enrapture you. To understand that I am not my own and that if I yield and allow Him to sweep me away, I will have no control over where He will take me.  It may be a bold and uncomfortable martyrdom, or it may be a quiet, fairly comfortable life of faith, but I must be willing to live the life with integrity and courage.  I am not there yet, I still hide from Him, but He is still pursuing me, and those footsteps are getting closer.  This Lent I hope to confront what I am clinging to, and plea for the Lord to have pity on me.

Behold, I am doing a new thing, can you not perceive it?

Peace and Grace,

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fame and Glory, Lady Gaga or CS Lewis: A Minivan Meditation

Permit me to share with you all a minivan meditation:

Today as I drove my daughter, Miranda, to school she asked me when the Grammys would be on TV.  I told her that they were on last night.

"They were!  I wanted to watch them!  Do you know who won best album?"

"No, I did not watch them either.  Did you have a preference?"

"Well, I was hoping that it was Lady Gaga or Adele." (which she pronounced Adeal)

"You have heard these albums?"  Miranda has an iPod, but it is loaded with Matt Maher and Audrey Assad, plus a few others, along with some apps, which are what really occupy her iPod time.

"Sure, Kelsey has them, I heard them when she was home."  Kelsey is her college aged sister-and I now note that I may want to recheck her iPod music.

 "Did you know that Lady Gaga is Catholic?" she asked me.

 I do not know a lot about Lady Gaga (I think she went to a Catholic high school), but the little I do know suggests to me she may be Catholic only in the sense that Madonna was Catholic- which is to say, she identified culturally with some of the symbols of the faith, but she uses them to her own ends and to carefully cultivate an image that is at once grounded in something profound, but at the same time rebelling against it, and maybe even corrupting their meanings.

"I don't know if I would consider Catholicism something that she holds in high regard Miranda,"  I said.  "Be careful about what she promotes, I don't think they fall in line with the Gospel of Jesus."

"Well, Mom, I don't consider her a role model, I mean she wore a meat suit!"

 What a relief....I think.  At least Lady Gaga has some talent, there are others in the limelight who are there simply for being profane and vulgar.  Better to be infamous than to be a nobody. And that is a concern, considering our natural desire to be loved and to be approved of.

And the desire to be known and loved is not just vanity or a passion to be better than every one else, though it can easily be perverted into that.  In fact, in the brilliant essay The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis  he discovers that many different prominent Christians, among them St. Thomas Aquinas, took the images of the glory of the redeemed literally, those who are saved will have "fame or good report.  But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures- fame with God, approval or (I might say) 'appreciation' by God."   Lewis makes the observation that we are all given the innate desire to hear the the Father say :  "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."  And we are all called to recall the childlike pleasure in earning the praise of those who are our "betters" (like our parents or teachers.)

From this discovery Lewis than remembers that no one can enter heaven except as a child.  The humility of a child does not hold back in using his gifts to please the Father who gave them to him.  He lavishes his gifts,  humble or great waiting to hear the words of approval and praise.  I think of my children, and how excited they are for my husband and I to open up their homemade gifts at Christmas.  How quickly though, the innocent natural desire to be known and loved and delighted in by God is diverted to seeking these desires to be filled in a greedy, or self serving way. We are diverted through loss and pain, through pride and through fear. With a society rapidly losing the hope of heavenly glory, in fact, with a secular culture snatching the eternal vision away from us, it is small wonder that some would choose public humiliation in exchange for fleeting fame, which may at least seem eternal.  We are taking spiritual longings and stifling them, we are exchanging our glory for shame.  And what will the cost of that be?

"In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised." (page 38 The Weight of Glory)

So, what do I do to protect my children and myself from a culture that belittles the spiritual longings, but encourages shallow and false pride?  How do I encourage a true authentic humility that uses the gifts that God gave them to please God, as best as they can in whatever circumstance they are in.  No matter how many people say they love Lady Gaga, the only love that will ultimately truly matter to her is the love of God.  If her fame impedes her awe of the Creator, and numbs her longing to be loved by Him, it is worse that being a nobody in the eyes of the world, it is Hell even now.  How do we redirect our vision from earthly glory to heavenly glory?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Isaiah 43:18

Isaiah 43"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not!  See I am doing something new!  Now it springs fourth, do you not perceive it?"

I was never quite sure why this passage is one of my favorites, I know that when I hear it I perceive that slight stirring of my heart, and so I always pay attention when I come across this passage.  And there are times when I have looked for it in the Bible, but owing to my very pathetic memory I can never remember the chapter that it is found in Isaiah and so if I do not have a lot of time I usually give up before I find it. Today in adoration was different, I opened the Bible and it fell open to this verse.   I stopped and read it, and then read the entire chapter, and, finally read the verse again.  I was reflecting on what the passage meant, both in terms of the historical reality of the Babylonian exile that the Children of God were enduring, and the transcendent spiritual applications of this powerful verse.

I questioned why, on this day, I was able to find this passage with absolutely no effort at all, and I remembered that just before I settled into my Bible reading I had been praying, first the rosary, than the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  And as I finished the Chaplet I was thinking of another family and how I needed to send a congratulatory card to their son who had achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.  Having two sons who are Eagle Scouts I know that this is an accomplishment and I lamented that I have not (and still have not) sent a formal congrats via snail mail (Facebook does not count).   This brought to mind a recent disagreement between our families (in a discussion marriage laws) and I held back my strong opinions, because of that old chain: who do you think you are to preach`~ you cannot even be thoughtful enough to send a timely congratulations when it is well earned!  I prayed "Lord, how on earth can your goodness come through me, I am not only thoughtless, I can so easily fall into enviousness, I can be so easily insulted, ect, ect,....."  I quickly realized that this prayer was not leading anywhere, so I opened the Bible and there was Isaiah 43.

The whole chapter of Isaiah 43 is at a shifting point in Isaiah.  His people have been severely chastised in the Babylonian captivity and he is now preparing the children of Israel for their future reinstatement in the land that was their inheritance.  Isaiah calls for them to remember that in the past God led His people out of Egypt with power and wonders.  Then Isaiah tells his people not to just remember the Lords wonders, not to think of that as something of the past but to look forward with confidence, for their are wonders occurring now, redemption is now at hand- can you not perceive it?  And even though I am all the things that I was earlier lamenting about He was saying even so His goodness can come through this wasteland of my heart, and all the more if I perceive it and let His surging justice scour my heart of the weakness I so readily capitulate to.  For it is not my power that I am drawing on:

In the desert I make a way, In the wasteland, rivers.  Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people I formed myself, that they might announce my praise.

In fact, if I let my own weaknesses and fears block the power of God through me, that is my choice.   For God who "Opens a way in the sea" needs only my humble yes;  my willingness to follow (stumble, repent, follow, repeat ad nauseum).  And it is only through a daily fiat, an offering of myself no matter how unworthy I am, that I begin to understand that whatever wonderful things God chooses to do through me it is by His power and through His mercy.  He can make a path through the sea, He can push aside the debris that has collected in my soul and He can water the dryness that I bring on myself.  I must daily take courage and confront my weaknesses and I must daily praise Him who gives me the heart to repent,  And, wonders of wonders, after confronting my utter lack of goodness, His grace still can put waters in the wasteland of my soul and flow out from there.

Praise Be To God

Friday, February 10, 2012

Morning prayer time troubles!

Why is it, when I settle on a spiritual sacrifice, small though it may be, I am very quickly confounded!  I had for a time set aside about ten minutes after everyone had gone to bed, for some prayer time. This was to be a prayerful examen and some reading of Scripture.  Even when I made the commitment there was a little voice that said, not at night, in the morning.  I ignored this voice because I did not want to get up any earlier than I already was, 6:30 AM, (sometimes 6:45.....) was early enough!  Yet, I found that at 10pm I would fall asleep, and my ten minute prayer time would be twenty, thirty, forty minutes, most of which was spent sleeping, and that was if I remembered to stay up at all!  Always something would whisper, morning time is when you should pray.

Then, as I perused New Advent, my favorite way to spend time in front of the computer screen, all of a sudden a few bloggers began to blog about early rising for prayer.  Coincidence????  I cannot say for sure, but being that my biggest sins are of the omission sort, caused by a penchant for sloth and cowardice, I thought that for once I would boldly make a change, if I am off track it is still better to act then to do nothing right?  Shake off the sloth, sleep is overrated, embrace the few moments of solitude in the morning!  I now remember that I make changes like this all the time, what I do not do is stick to them.  No matter,  screw you courage to it's sticking place and do not be afraid of failure, you can't succeed if you do not try, ect. ect.

So I began, and the first week was.....well I kept sleeping in.  I did get my prayer and reading in, but it was not peaceful because it was constantly interrupted by children who are soooo needy!  The next week was better.  I would get up between 6:05 and 6:10....(yes, that is all that I am doing for now, maybe when I have a child reliably sleeping through the night I will consider earlier.  Then again, my husband is up at 5:45, which would mean for me that complete solitude would not be possible unless I got up at 5:30.....ugh! I am not ready for that!)  Wonder of wonders, the first week it worked!  I felt like I had accomplished something and I wa ready for the day!

Last week was good as well, weekends are difficult, but it was working none-the-less.  This week however has been a disaster.  I slept in Monday and Tuesday, (also on Sunday, but that was not the issue on that day it was that my hubby was up doing the finances and before I could retreat to my room with my coffee for prayer I was confronted with a very tense questioning about a Target receipt from December, which regulated in loss of tempers)  which meant that I had time for a quick examen, but Scripture would have to wait until after the kids were at school.  Wednesday, Thursday and today at least one of the three youngest have been awake and full of demands before 6:30am.  Today they did not even have school!  So, I am frustrated again and I am wondering if I am to endure through this or if I am to make another change in my prayer schedule!

Oh well, for now I will continue to try to rise early and go with the flow of the morning as best I can!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ice and Snow Praise the Lord

Frost and chill, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever.

Ice and snow, bless the Lord; praise him above all forever.
 Daniel 3:69-70 
Photo by Heidi Knofcyznski

 From the middle of a white hot furnace Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego praise the Lord.  And from the midst of snow and ice here in Omaha we also praise the Lord for the whole of creation that breaks forth before our eyes; in ferocity and terror and in splendor and beauty we praise the Lord.

photo by Heidi Knofczynski

 I went out in the snow today to help my husband shovel (really...I did shovel a little bit, but it is hard to shovel with a camera in your hand!)  Besides it was a perfect snow!  I had to help my daughter Sophia make a snow angel!
Photo by:  Heidi Knofczynski

And trudge to the backyard shed to find the sleds.

Photo by Heidi Knofczynski
And have snowball fights, (actually I just had snowballs thrown at me!)
Photo by Heidi Knofczynski

In the glory of the winter snow our litany of praise continues, but with a decidedly childlike focus!

Photo by Heidi Knofczynski
Photo by Heidi KnofczynskiPhoto by Heidi KnofczynskiFor delicious snow bless the Lord; praise and exalt him forever!
Photo by Heidi Knofczynski

Brothers and sisters bless the Lord; praise and exalt him forever!

Photo by Heidi Knofczynski

For no broken bones bless the Lord; praise and exalt him forever!

Photo by Heidi Knofczynski

For perfect snowman /snowball snow, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him forever!

Photo by Heidi Knofczynski

For the tracked, trampled and piled snow in our yard we bless the Lord;
for the camera that was pulled unharmed from the snow (I dropped it) we bless the Lord;
for the warm fire that was crackling when we were done with our fun, bless the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.
Bless the God of gods, all you who fear the Lord; praise him and give thanks, because his mercy endures forever! 
  Daniel 3:89-90

Peace and Grace,